When’s the last time you paused to listen to someone’s story?
Weekly email archives and occasional extra words that don't have a home anywhere else on my site.
She was Vienna Beef’s “Weenie Queen.”
(At least she told us she was.)
Her name was Dana, and she went full Eloise at our hotel in Healdsburg, California, after her home’s plumbing went haywire a few weeks back.
She sat hunched over in an oversized outdoor chair by the fire pit, stroking a threadbare ragdoll cat named Bonnie on her lap, a quavering white dog named Willy by her side.
She puffed on a vape, a haze encircling her deeply lined face, and gestured for Mark and me to sit.
It didn’t take long to learn we were in the presence of encased-meat royalty: As soon as Dana found out we were visiting from Chicago, she was off to the races.
My memory of her origin story is fuzzy (blame the Zin), so I’ll jump to the juicy part: She was instrumental in bringing Chicago’s Vienna Beef hot dogs all the way to Candlestick Park, where she sparked a fan frenzy in 1995 with a contest to dream up San Francisco’s answer to my fair city’s iconic delicacy.
(Nothing compares, btw. Sorry slash don’t @ me.)
Her Weenie Queen ascendance continued as she brought Vienna Beef’s dogs to other parks throughout California.
She held court for years, living high on the all-beef hog: She and her kids had a never-ending supply of franks, heat-and-enjoy Italian beef packets, and more in their freezer.
Our conversation wound down as she lamented how hard it is to find Vienna Beef dogs in Northern California. And I didn’t want to blow her mind too hard telling her about the Internet’s ability to send you anything (for a price).
Dana — whose name I didn’t think to ask until just before she retired for the evening — was lonely, I think.
I think she craved human connection that night even more than she wanted that all-beef goodness on a poppyseed bun with neon-green sweet relish, dill pickle spear, tomato wedge, sport peppers, mustard, and a shake of celery salt.
And even if they’re not lonely, per se, people really do want to share.
I’ve always marveled at the stories folks will share if you make even a little space for them to tell them.
One of my clients is a senior-living company, and I write the cover story every month for their resident magazine.
Every interview starts with the same meek protest: “Oh, I don’t like to talk about myself.”
But with a few guiding questions and just the right amount of meaningful silence on my end of the line, they’re gushing about…
🎾 coaching the Stanford women’s tennis team…
⛸️ or ice skating in the Olympics…
🗒️ or working on the team at 3M that brought Post-it Notes to the world…
☄️ or having a literal asteroid named after them…
And I’m floating about an inch above my desk chair by the time we finish our interview.
I keep every one of these stories with me. And theirs are now intertwined with mine.
So: When’s the last time you paused to listen to someone’s story?
And how much do you know about your dream customer’s story? What experiences define them? What will they remember forever? What keeps them up at night?
And what would happen if you just…asked them?
Seen > sold to, every time.
F-S: Reserved for rest